The Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-stars had already qualified for the single-elimination portion of the World Series, but the 13 kids didn’t know that.
Coventry coach Mark Barter elected not to tell his team prior to Wednesday’s final pool play game against Tualatin Hills, Oregon that the team had already qualified because he wanted the team to shoot for the American Division’s No. 2 seed, which would put Coventry on the other side of the bracket from El Segundo, Calif.
After the Pacific Northwest champions grabbed five runs in the bottom of the second inning, it looked like Coventry was going to back its way into the playoffs. But Coventry scored once in third and the fifth before Joey Barter and Manny Bjorklund sparked a three-run uprising in the sixth to lead Coventry to an 8-6 win in Williston, N.D.
‘We told them we just wanted to win this game and be the No. 2 seed,” Barter said. “They changed pitchers in the sixth inning and we told them to be patient, attack the ball and make good things happen. We just told them to wait for pitches in the strike zone and hammer and that’s what they did.”
Wednesday’s win, coupled with wins over Tri-Counties, Texas on Monday and Fargo, N.D. on Tuesday, helped Coventry earn a date with the third place team from the National Division in the first of two quarterfinals Thursday at 6:00 p.m.
Barter said the tentative plan is to start Bjorklund, the team’s ace who struggled in 3 2/3 innings of work against El Segundo on Saturday. Coventry will likely either Guernsey Valley, Ohio or Williston, with the winner facing National Division champ Lawrenceburg, Tenn. in the semifinals Friday evening.
“Manny tells me he’s not 100 percent, but we’re going to start him and it will be the same scenario as in Manchester,” Barter said. “If he doesn’t have it then we will go to Plan B and I’ll figure that out when the time comes. I think he’s due because the history with Manny is when he has a so-so outing, he usually bounces back.”
Coventry’s plan going into Wednesday’s game was to start a breaking-ball pitcher because Tualatin Hills has feasted on fastballs in the tournament. That plan didn’t work out because the pitching hero at New Englands, Colin Sutyla, only made it through one inning before he was replaced by Barter.
Barter struggled to clean up Sutyla’s mess in the second inning, but he ended up pitching four scoreless innings to earn the victory.
“I’m so proud of Joey because when I bring him in the game it’s usually with the bases loaded or guys on base,” Barter said of his son. “In that second inning his pitches were up a little bit and his curveball wasn’t working. I told him after the inning his teammates would come through for him and then he just threw shutout ball.”
Coventry, which has scored at least eight runs in its last three games, was sparked by the bottom of the order. Josh Andrade had three hits and an RBI, while fellow outfielder Steve Verrier delivered a hit and two RBIs.
Coventry, which led the game 3-1 heading into the bottom of the second inning, retook the lead in the sixth. Barter started the inning with a single, but back-to-back outs by Jarrad Grossguth and Cam Reid appeared to take the wind out of Coventry’s sails.
That’s when Bjorklund, who was 4-for-4, triple home Barter. Bjorklund scored later in the inning as Coventry took an 8-6 lead. Bjorklund was Coventry’s best hitter during pool play, going 8-for-13, including eight for his last 11.
Barter pitched in a scoreless sixth and Brendon Organ worked around a hit batter to pitch a scoreless seventh to pick up the save.
“This team epitomizes the word team,” Barter said. “It’s not every man for himself. These guys work together and if we’re not getting the typical production from the top of our order, everybody else is picking them up. The defense has been spectacular and these guys know what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Coventry 14 Fargo, N.D. 4
The Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-star team only scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning of its American Division pool play clash with North Dakota state champion Fargo, but it became pretty clear the contest was a mismatch.
According to Barter, Coventry could’ve scored six runs in the first, instead the New England champions scored five runs in the second inning and seven more in the third to cruise to a 14-4 mercy-rule victory over Fargo.
“The guys were swinging the bats the way they did in Manchester,” Barter said. “We made a couple of base-running mistakes in the first and we left the bases loaded. We just exploded in the second and third innings and we left eight or nine guys on base, so it could’ve been much worse.”
Reid, the team’s clean-up hitter, led the way with five RBIs and three hits, while Grossguth had a double, a triple and three RBIs. Bjorklund had two hits and two RBIs and Sutyla had two hits and two RBIs.
Kyle Brown, who didn’t have a hit in his two at-bats, was the beneficiary of all the run support. The righty allowed just one run and struck out three batters in three innings of work.
“The place is buzzing about us right now,” Barter said. “Everyone knows who Coventry is and I don’t think anyone wants to play us right now.”
Coventry 9 Tri-Counties, Texas 1
Mark Barter wasn’t exactly sure what he would get from Grossguth when the righty took the mound for Monday night’s crucial World Series National Division contest with Tri-Counties, Texas.
Grossguth had been the team’s hitting star through the state and New England tournaments, but an arm injury had limited the righty’s innings on the mound.
What Barter got was more than he could’ve ever imagined. Grossguth allowed just one run and struck out five batters in five efficient innings. Grossguth also belted a two-run home run, while Verrier delivered three RBIs in an impressive 9-1 victory over the Texas side.
“We were just looking for Jarrad to give us four good innings and then we would go from there,” Barter said by phone. “After the fourth inning he had only threw 42 pitches, so we decided to send him back out there. We had such a big lead after the fifth that we had the chance to save him for later in the tournament.”
Coventry evened its record at 1-1 and put itself in a good position to qualify for the playoffs. California champion El Segundo essentially locked up the division title and a playoff bye by winning its third game Monday.
Neither team scored in the first inning, but Coventry scored all the runs it would need in the top of the second inning when center fielder Nick D’Ambra delivered a two-run single.
Tri-Counties cut the deficit in half in the second inning before Verrier helped Coventry scored two more runs in the third inning. The big blow came later in the game when Grossguth slammed a two-run home run after Joey Barter doubled off the walk.
“Right before Jarrad got up Joey hit a ball off the wall at the 315-foot mark,” Barter said. “I thought to myself if Joey could hit the wall then Jarra`d definitely could put one out. He hit it at least 20 feet over the fence.”
El Segundo, Calif. 9 Coventry 4
The bad news for the Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-star team is it lost its World Series opener to El Segundo, Calif., 9-4, Saturday afternoon in Williston, N.D.
The good news, according Barter, is El Segundo is the favorite to win the title and Coventry battled them for seven innings in the American Division opener.
“Even though we lost the game it was actually a pretty encouraging sign,” Barter said by phone Saturday afternoon. “People around here are telling us that they are the team to beat and while losing 9-4 isn’t a great thing, when you give up six walks, hit two batters and don’t make a few plays in the outfield, you don’t deserve to win.
“It’s encouraging that if we play a better game we can hang with that team, which only makes me think that the rest of our games are going to be fine.”
Saturday’s defeat was the first of four pool-play games for both teams. The top team in each of the two divisions earns a bye into Friday’s semifinals, while the second- and third-place teams play in the first round of the playoffs Thursdays afternoon.
Coventry will be back on the field Monday night at 5:30 p.m. local time to take on Tri-Counties, Texas, which won its opening game Saturday before losing to El Segundo, 12-6, Sunday.
“I liken this to our loss to Plymouth in Manchester,” Barter said. “We have to come back Monday and we just have to be ready to go. We have to hit the ball. We’re going to scout them and hopefully we’ll be ready for them.”
Coventry ace Manny Bjorklund had been undefeated during state and New England play, but his winning run came to an end against the California champions. Bjorklund struck out six batters, but he struggled to find the strike zone. The righty walked four batters and gave up a run each in the second and third innings.
He was pulled in the fourth inning after more control problems. Joey Barter replaced him as El Segundo added two more runs to grab a 4-2 advantage.